Sunday, May 07, 2017

Big Dollar Fur Babies

I am always amused by people who push or embrace very slow and complicated reward-based training regimes to correct very common self-rewarding bad behaviors.

The reason you should never correct a dog, I am told, is that it will make the dog "fearful" or "neurotic," or "environmentally weak".

And who are the people saying this? Why fearful, neurotic, and environmentally weak people!

Another group are dog trainers whose business plan is based on a dog trainer dependency model.

Ask them how to teach a dog to stop barking, or how to teach a dog not to jump or charge the door, and they have a 28-day program to sell you, or perhaps a $4,000 board and train package . At the end of that program, they will say "this is a cot for place, this is a leash and a slip collar, this is an e-collar, and this is a treat bag."


It reminds me of the alcohol treatment industry which charges $28,000 for a 30-day intake. As confused executives and failed reality show stars leave Hazelden, Betty Ford, or the Sedona Wellness Retreat, the last words they hear are: "Now you be sure you go to those AA meetings now".


Please, let us not confuse the high cost of a nicety for the very low cost of doing the same thing out of necessity.

You want to train the dog yourself?  You can.  You want to get sober and you have no health insurance?  You can.  In either case, all you need is the fire called desire and a willingness to listen and follow directions.

As for the notion that a dog will wilt from a correction, or a dog will become "environmentally weak" or "live in constant fear" from an aversive?

Please don't tell my dogs who walk off leash through parks chock-full of squirrels, deer, rabbits, birds, and other dogs. They look pretty happy.

A miracle? No, simple training with the very weak tap of a modern e-collar -- a tap so low I cannot feel it. The dogs need no taps at all now.  Is that because they are cowed and cowering?  Nope.  And are they now ruined for hunting groundhog, fox, raccoon and possum? They are not.

And here's the thing:  groundhogs, raccoons, fox, and possum occasionally bite and rip the muzzles of my dogs.

"How do you reward your dogs" for sliding underground and working so hard, one dog trainer asked me.

"I let them do it again," I replied.

The code explodes. This is self-rewarding behavior.  It's FUN.

And so we learn that the mildest corrective that is well-timed and consistent can stop profoundly self-rewarding behavior like off-leash squirrel and deer chasing, but a much harder correction, poorly timed and inconsistent, has no impact on prey drive.

Is this news to pet folks with "personal philosophies"about dogs and dog training?


And yet this thing I know.  I know it because I observe, and I am never willing to substitute philosophy or religion for reality and experience.

Neither are the dogs.


Viatecio said...

"Slow and complicated" seems to be the theme.

I see people almost doing dances around their dog, constantly chattering or pushing food at it in one form or another. Dog is usually tense, barking/whining/chuffing, hyperfocused on something else and the leash is usually taut on whatever joke of a collar to which it's attached. When pushed, they insist "Oh, this is amazing for him, he's doing SO WELL! We're working on it! He's MUCH BETTER than when we first started working with the trainer a few months/years ago!"

Well then, if this is BETTER, then what the heck was he before--hell on wheels?

Stop pussyfooting around the issue and give the dog the feedback he needs without totally setting him up for failure. But I guess that's what people WANT to do because it makes them feel good about themselves, so carry on, I guess.

dp said...

Frankly I find it almost impossoble to suppress prey drive in a hunting dog. E-collars, alas, are forbiđden here. However, I can testify to the fact that a clicker and reward are useless when prey drive kicks in.

PBurns said...

I am happy not live in Germany, where even bark collars are banned, but the law says "dog owners must ensure neighbors are not disturbed by barking and barking cannot last longer than 10 minutes in a row or 30 minutes cumulatively per day."

The old way to stop prey drive is very hard on a dog, and involves a long leash and a horse lunge whip, thrown chains, and thrown bumpers (cloth, rubber, hawser rope). That's all quite legal in Germany, and never mind if it is hard on the dog, slow and not a reliable as a low-stim e-collar or even a vibrate collar (which is actually more startling to a dog than low-stim) . This is what's wrong when truly ignorant legislators listen to the tie-dye green groups that believe in aromatherapy.

The good news is that you can train your dog like you want with an e-collar and a bandanna over the collar and the transmitter in your pocket. It's NOT like the dog jumps or howls when an e-collar is properly used -- it's entirely invisible. No one has ever stopped me or asked what I am doing because they do not even notice. You can also train a lot in your own backyard or in your living room or in remote fields. You are not harming the dog, but training it, and if the law is truly stupid, you have to pivot around it.